Showing posts with label CPI. FOMC. Show all posts
Showing posts with label CPI. FOMC. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fed, ZIRP, QE2 Pumps Dow to Highest Close in 27 Months

Since the economy is still looking like something out of a B-grade horror flick, the Fed can take credit for one thing, at least, pumping stocks to levels not since they were going down, two years ago. The Dow Jones Industrials closed at its highest point since September 8 of 2008, when it closed at 11,510.74, on it's way to its eventual bottom on March 8, 2009, of 6547.05.

Today's close of 11,476.54 represents an overall 21-month gain from the bottom, of 75%, one of the most tremendous performances by the stock market in history. However, as we learned in 2008, these gains are largely transitory, on paper, unreal, and can be wiped out in a matter or weeks or months. Further, they have been fostered by trillions of dollars in bailouts, stimulus, fraud and deception on top of an economy that can't seem to move off square one, never mind creating any jobs for real, working Americans.

If it all seems somehow out of whack, it's largely because it is. Between TARP, QE, QE2 and two stimulus plans, the government - and the Fed - has gone deeply into debt and the burden pushed onto the taxpayer in the form of an overgrown public debt and federal budget deficits of over a trillion dollars a year for as far as the eye can see.

Meanwhile, the housing and manufacturing sectors of the economy have been shattered. Home prices are down 25-30% since 2006 on a national basis, with some areas - particularly Nevada, California, Florida and Michigan - experiencing deeper declines. Manufacturing has shed nearly 500,000 businesses since the early 2000s, along with more than 10 million jobs.

Unemployment, even narrowly defined by the BLS, is approaching 10%, though true measures of employment in America put the number closer to 20%, with some estimates ranging as high as 27%. In effect, about one in four able-bodied American under the age of 65 is not gainfully employed full time. This is a condition which cannot continue. High unemployment renders us a welfare state, complete with all the nasty side-effects: high crime rates, rising death rates, lower educational standards and a permanent underclass which now is beginning to occupy the outskirts of major cities across the country and especially in the South and Southwest. Homeless people tend to gather where it's warm enough to sleep out-of-doors, and the numbers are beginning to become staggering statistics.

The FOMC voted today to keep interest rates at ZERO to .25% for the 27th month in a row, neatly matching up with the collapse of the stock market, so, while the Fed has failed on multiple fronts, they get a big round of applause from Wall Street, as the only group seemingly doing just fine are bailed-out bankers and the corporate crack in which they traffic.

The only other measurable group doing well would be coin and bullion dealers and collectors, as gold and silver coins and bullion have appreciated at rates dwarfing stock market gains since 2000. Essentially, both precious metals have quadrupled in price over the past decade and silver, in particular, seems to be just getting started on a lengthy bull run. So long as the Fed keeps monetizing the debt and the banks fail to record and write down their losses, the metals will outperform all other asset classes.

Today's gains were once again truncated by late-day selling, after the FOMC announcement. There's little faith left in equities, as they nervously approach levels which are unsustainable in the current environment. Traders are counting the hours down to the year's end, after which they can make adjustments in January, but we're not quite there yet.

Dow 11,476.54, +47.98 (0.42%)
NASDAQ 2,627.72, +2.81 (0.11%)
S&P 500 1,241.59, +1.13 (0.09%)
NYSE Composite 7,855.22, +5.20 (0.07%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,767,595,125
NYSE Volume 4,579,517,500

Advancing issues trailer decliners, 3067-3346. New highs/lows on the NASDAQ were 158-23 and 176-113 on the NYSE. The high-lows are converging in a hurry, signaling that a major dell-off could occur within days. Volume remained weak. No news there.

Oil pulled back a little on the day, shedding 33 cents, to $88.28, though still close to 2-year highs. Gold was up most of the day, but barely hung onto a $1.40 gain, at $1395.90. Silver was also higher, but is now printing down 4 cents, at $29.51. This, after JP Morgan, in a terse statement, said they had trimmed their exposure to the silver market, the one they are accused of rigging for years and now the subject of a criminal class action suit.

Anecdotal evidence that the holiday shopping season is not at all robust got a kick of reality as Best Buy missed estimates by a wide margin, causing other electronics retailers and related industries to tumble.

Monday, September 20, 2010

OK, So Now What?

Stocks just pushed higher through resistance on Monday as traders searched for clues that either the economy was improving or the Fed would change some wording in Tuesday's FOMC rate policy meeting.

Rates are expected to remain unchanged, at ZERO, which, if one were to look at it objectively, would consider it a glorious time to take on additional risk. After all, borrowing money without any interest - or marginal at best - is accommodative to speculation, just the kind of easy credit policy which has created all the other prior bubbles.

From certain perspectives, it makes perfect sense to invest in US equities. On the side of caution are those who believe the entire Fed operation is nothing more than a grand illusion, destined to fail. In the meantime, investors simply cannot refrain from buying stocks with cheap money. Buy, buy, buy was the message delivered today, loud and clear.

The major indices have rallied through their 200-day moving average and are testing the high end of the recent range. Whether this current rally has enough impetus to surpass the highs of Spring will be known in a number of days or weeks, though there seems to be nothing standing in the way of new highs heading into the elections, despite what cynics might be assuming about the political nature of the markets.

Dow 10,753.62, +145.77 (1.37%)
NASDAQ 2,355.83, +40.22 (1.74%)
S&P 500 1,142.71, +17.12 (1.52%)
NYSE Composite 7,266.02, +111.37 (1.56%)

Advancing issues buried decliners, 4693-1152. New highs soared past new lows, 531-45. Even volume was a little improved from the sluggish levels of the past six weeks.

NASDAQ Volume 2,027,424,375
NYSE Volume 4,064,069,750

Commodities participated in the overall euphoria. Oil gained $1.20, to $74.86. Gold closed up $3.40, to another new record, at $1,279.00. Silver slid just a penny, to $20.78. Today's rally - and the general rally of the past two weeks would be more believable if commodity prices were more contained. The gains in commodities are only proving that while stocks may be favored in the short run, there's no scarcity of skepticism among investors, who are buying the precious metals and oil as protection... against exactly what, nobody seems certain. But, whether it's inflation or deflation, commodities and bonds have been rallying right alongside the stock market.

All asset classes usually do not gain or fall at the same moments in time, but, with the massive amount of liquidity being suppled constantly by the Federal Reserve, anything is possible, including re-flation, inflation and even hyper-inflation. The Fed is swimming in some very dangerous water, indeed.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Early Rally Battered by Fed Rate Decision

Although there was no change in federal funds rates when the FOMC announced their decision at 2:15 pm on Wednesday, there was enough of an indication from the central bank committee that other aspects of their recent easy money policy were coming to an end. The statement which accompanied the "no change" decision was sprinkled with enough mention of the end of certain Fed programs and strengthening economic conditions to scare off year-end investors as the trading session ground to a close.

Even their opening sentence, "Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in November suggests that economic activity has continued to pick up and that the deterioration in the labor market is abating, " was more bullish than previous announcements, a sign that the Fed would probably change the key wording: "exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for an extended period" within the next two meetings and that rate increases would be forthcoming by Summer of 2010.

The trick for traders is in the timing of their trades and the key at this particular time is to get out ahead of any Fed rate increase, because that event will almost certainly result in halting stocks' heady advance. As it is, the great rises in stocks has recently abated to a large degree, as trading since the last Fed meeting has been mostly sideways to slightly higher. Locking in gains or selling losers for the year would seem to be imminent following one of the last great market-moving events of the year.

With strong mention concerning the ending of certain liquidity programs, the Fed's last paragraph really set the tone for this meeting and what would occur in terms of policy in the first months of 2010.
In light of ongoing improvements in the functioning of financial markets, the Committee and the Board of Governors anticipate that most of the Federal Reserve’s special liquidity facilities will expire on February 1, 2010, consistent with the Federal Reserve’s announcement of June 25, 2009. These facilities include the Asset-Backed Commercial Paper Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility, the Commercial Paper Funding Facility, the Primary Dealer Credit Facility, and the Term Securities Lending Facility. The Federal Reserve will also be working with its central bank counterparties to close its temporary liquidity swap arrangements by February 1. The Federal Reserve expects that amounts provided under the Term Auction Facility will continue to be scaled back in early 2010. The anticipated expiration dates for the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility remain set at June 30, 2010, for loans backed by new-issue commercial mortgage-backed securities and March 31, 2010, for loans backed by all other types of collateral. The Federal Reserve is prepared to modify these plans if necessary to support financial stability and economic growth.

With all of these programs coming to an end, the Fed obviously sees the US economy as essentially healed and will begin to focus more on reining in liquidity and keeping inflation under control. Most astute economy watchers believe that the Fed will begin to raise rates during the second quarter of 2010, if not sooner, and will increase them 25 to 50 basis points at a crack until the end of the year. By this time next year, the federal funds rate should be approaching 2% with 2 1/4% at the high end. That should certainly be accommodative enough to keep stocks from keeling over and low enough to not hamper economic growth.

As the market wound down, traders took the Fed's message to heart, trimming some of the day's earlier gains and actually sending the Dow to its second straight negative close. Other indices managed to hold onto marginal gains. The broader market, as measured by the NYSE composite, outperformed all other indices handily.

Dow 10,441.12, -10.88 (0.10%)
Nasdaq 2,206.91, +5.86 (0.27%)
S&P 500 1,109.18, +1.25 (0.11%)
NYSE Composite 7,180.76, +39.32 (0.55%)

Simple indicators were out of line with the modest headline numbers, most likely due to speculation on less-followed stocks as options expiration neared (Friday). As a matter of fact, much of the movement in stocks the past two days was more than likely unduly influenced by options, as Friday is a quadruple witching day. Advancing issues finished well ahead of decliners, 4089-2429. New highs outpaced new lows, 538-83. Volume was better than normal, another factor of options expiration at the end of the week.

NYSE Volume 5,370,022,500
Nasdaq Volume 2,037,267,500

Commodities responded to a weaker dollar prior to the Fed announcement, though the buck strengthened after the decision. Oil rose $1.97, to $72.66, though much of that gain was attributed to government figures showing a decline in inventory of 3.9 million barrels. Gold gained $13.00, to $1,136.00; silver was higher by 24 cents, to $17.70.

Other economic news included November CPI data which showed consumer prices increasing at a rate of 0.4%, in line with expectations. Housing starts and building permits were also up.

Looking ahead to Thursday, initial unemployment claims are expected to continue to moderate down to 450,000, though that number would, in normal times, be a cause for panic, considering it is the height of the retail season and jobs should be plentiful. Such a number indicates that the economy is not as yet fully healed, with jobs creation remaining extremely weak. Uncertainty of government measures, notably the health care debate and consideration of higher taxes, plus the overhang on business from last year's near financial meltdown, are contributing to slack demand for labor.

That should ease by Spring and Summer of 2010, but for now, the numbers are still quite discouraging, especially for those seeking employment.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke was named Time magazine's Person of the Year, which was probably more of a planned coincidence than happenstance. Bernanke is scheduled to be re-appointed for another term by the Senate tomorrow. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was runner-up for the honor, which says plenty about the rigor of the selection committee.